Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Ackerman Institute for the Family

  • Lois BravermanEmail author
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_595-2


Family Therapy Latino Youth Family Project Resilient Family Specific Problem Area 
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Founded in 1960 by Nathan Ackerman as a training institute, the Ackerman Institute for the Family was initially known as The Family Institute. Nathan Ackerman, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, believed that if one person in the family had a problem, everyone in the family was impacted and that the place to solve that problem was in the family. Dr. Ackerman’s idea to position family therapy as the primary therapeutic modality in the treatment of children was revolutionary at the time. Following WWII, he began to experiment with seeing his patients and their families together in therapy. A group of grateful families came together to establish a nonprofit center to support and expand Nathan Ackerman’s’ work in teaching and training. A building was donated for this work, which was located on the Upper East Side of New York City in an old brownstone. Dr. Ackerman published, taught, and even videotaped his new methods. Documenting clinical work with videotapes became the cornerstone in the teaching and training of family therapists at the institute and is the main training modality to this day.

Although many family therapy institutes formed in the 1960s in the USA had a distinctive conceptual core or were aligned with the work and thinking of a specific person, Nathan Ackerman was not very interested in establishing a specific school or theory of family therapy. However, he was committed to the invention and development of clinical innovations for some of the most difficult problems facing families and couples. This tradition of developing family therapy techniques and ideas around specific problem areas continues today in the form of special projects at the institute.

Since 1960, the leadership of the Ackerman Institute (Don Block, Peter Steinglass, and Lois Braverman), followed Ackerman’s tradition of supporting innovation, of developing new ways to work with specific problem areas facing families and then feeding these ideas into the training program and the clinical services offered to couples and families.

In August of 2013, the Ackerman Institute for the Family moved from its original home at 149 East 78th Street to its current location in the heart of the Flatiron District. In this move, a state-of-the-art training institute was built that now houses the training activities and clinical services of the institute.


936 Broadway 2nd floor, New York, NY 10010

Prominent Associated Figures

Since 1960, many people who have developed work in special projects at the Institute. This work resulted in books and articles that have influenced others in the field of family therapy. This list includes but is not limited to: Nathan Ackerman (1966), Don Bloch (1972, 1981), Mary Kim Brewster (Brewster and Sheinberg 2015; Sheinberg and Brewster 2014), Jorge Calipinto (1995), Martha Edwards (2002), Peter Fraenkel (2006, 2011), Aquilla Fredericks (2014), Virginia Goldner (2004; Goldner et al. 1990), Miquel Hernandez (Hernandez et al. 1999), Lynn Hoffman (1990), Evan Imber-Black (1992, 1993, 2011), Laurie Kaplan (Kaplan and Small 2005), Elana Katz (2007), Kitty LaPerriere (1982), Catherine Lewis (2011), Jean Malpas (2011), Peggy Papp (1983, 2000; Papp and Imber-Black 1996;Papp et al. 2013; Walters et al.1991), Peggy Penn (1982), Michele Scheinkman (2005, 2008; Scheinkman and Werneck 2010), Marcia Sheinberg (1992); Sheinberg and Brewster 2014; Sheinberg and True 2008; Sheinberg and Fraenkel 2001; Sheinberg and Penn 1991), Olga Silverstein (Silverstein and Rashbaum 1995), Sippio Small (Kaplan and Small 2005), Peter Steinglass (1987), Marcia Stern (2008), Judy Stern-Peck (2007), Fiona True (Sheinberg and True 2008), Gillian Walker (1991), and thandiwe Dee Watt-Jones (1997, 2004, 2010, 2016; Watts-Jones et al. 2007).


In a general sense, the Ackerman Institute for the Family can be described as a “think tank,” where teaching methods and clinical models are continually invented, practiced, and refined. The institute provides (a) direct services to families and couples through an on-site clinic, (b) postgraduate training in couple and family therapy, and (c) clinical research initiatives known as “special projects” that focus on the development of new treatment models and training techniques.

Many projects at the institute have led to articles, books, and training tapes. What was learned in the projects was fed back into the training program and the clinical services. In addition to workshops and conferences, a program of international training was established with ongoing collaborations with family therapy institutes in Hong Kong, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

Examples of projects that have been conducted historically at the institute include:

  • The Family-School Collaboration Project, led by Howard Wiess

  • The AIDS Project, led by Gillian Walker and John Patten

  • The Foster Care Project, led by Jorge Colapinto

  • The Infertility Project, led by Mimi Meyers, Connie Scharf, David Kezur, and Margot Weinshel

  • The Gender and Violence Project, led by Virginia Goldner, Marcia Sheinberg, Gillian Walker, and Peggy Penn

  • The Making Families Safe for Children Project, led by Marcia Sheinberg, Fiona True, and Peter Fraenkel

  • The Depression Project, led by Peggy Papp

  • The Writing Project, led by Peggy Penn

  • The Alcohol, Drugs, and the Family Project, led by Peter Steinglass

  • The Themes and Beliefs Project, led by Evan Imber-Black and Peggy Papp

  • The Diversity in Social Work Training Program, led by Sippio Small, Laurie Kaplan, and Ruth Mohr

  • Fresh Start for Families, led by Peter Fraenkel

  • The Mentoring Group, led by Miguel Hernandez, Sippio Small, and Dee Watts-Jones

  • The Unique Minds Project, led by Gillian Walker, Marcia Stern, Susan Shimmerlik, and Pat Heller

  • Competent Kids/Caring Classrooms, led by Marcia Stern

Current projects include:

  • Adolescents and their Families Project led by Peggy Papp, Michael Davidovits, and Courtney Zazzali

  • Center for the Developing Child and Family, led by Martha Edwards

  • Center for Families and Health, led by Evan Imber-Black

  • Center for Relational Trauma, led by Marcia Sheinberg and Fiona True

  • Center for Substance Abuse and the Family, led by Peter Steinglass

  • Competent Kids/Caring Communities, led by Zina Rutkin

  • Couples Project led by Michele Scheinkman, Peggy Papp, and Jean Malpas

  • Diversity in Social Work Training Program, led by Sippio Small and Laurie Kaplan

  • Divorce Mediation Project, led by Elana Katz

  • Foster Care and Adoption Project, led by Catherine Lewis and Andrea Blumenthal

  • Gender and Family Project, led by Jean Malpas

  • Justice Project, led by Sarah Berland and Courtney Zazzali

  • Language and Writing Project led by Patricia Booth, Joan DeGregorio, and Sally Write

  • Latino Youth and Family Immigration Project: Dimelo en Espanol, led by Silvia Espinal and Erika Klein

  • Money, Values, and Family Life Project, led by Judy Stern Peck

  • Multiracial Families and Couple Project, led by Dorimar Morales, Keren Ludwig, and Mary Kim Brewster

  • Resilient Families: Children with Special Needs Project, led by Judy Grossman

  • Serious Mental Illness and the Family Project, led by Mary Kim Brewster and Lois Braverman

  • Talk Race Group Project, led by Aquilla Frederick and Frank Wells

Over the years, the Ackerman Institute has developed an approach taught in the training program called the Ackerman Relational Approach. The most recent articulation has been in the manual written by Mary Kim Brewster and Marcia Sheinberg (2015). The Ackerman Relational Approach reflects the following ideas about change:

  • People change from positions of strength and empowerment.

  • People change when they feel understood by the people closest to them.

  • People change when they feel hopeful.

  • People change when they expand their capacity to genuinely appreciate the perspectives and lived experiences of others.

  • People change when the meaning attributed to a problem shifts or becomes more comprehensible within its context.

  • People change when they are able to mobilize resources and work together (Brewster and Sheinberg 2015).

The Ackerman Relational Approach is not a model but a way of thinking and conceptualizing family dilemmas that is non-pathologizing and collaborative, searches for the unique beliefs and meaning each family member attributes to the problem, holds the complexity of the individual as more than their symptoms, and understands how oppressive practices in the larger society impact the interior of couple and family relationships. At the same time, therapists are trained to understand how their own social location impacts their view of the problem and how it may influence their interaction with the family or couple in treatment. The list of key references reflects some of the seminal articles and books written by Ackerman faculty in the last 50 years that have influenced the thinking and practice of family therapy at the institute today.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ackerman Institute for the FamilyNew YorkUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Thorana Nelson
    • 1
  1. 1.Utah State UniversitySanta FeUnited States